Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Into the Thick of It

Working with government has its advantages and pitfalls. While a small city like Stara Zagora is an ideal place to get to know municipal and federal officials, it is also large enough with enough work to avoid an annoying American with an agenda. Perhaps the language barrier makes a meeting more ominous than usual.

I have been very busy for the last long while, but I've earned a break tomorrow during which I will elaborate on the past few weeks and the quagmire into which I've knowingly jumped. As for now, I'm bus-lagged (20,000 times worse than jet-lagged) and looking forward to a night's rest.

On a quick note, I met a socially-conscious honey merchant from Stara Zagora on this trip to Sofia. I expect to meet him this week to talk about operations, bee-product sales, how his business (like a kind of NGO ) contributes to the community, and how I can become involved. Some of my buddies in other places have communities that produce honey but don't have markets. And I can bee-keep again! Copascetic!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Wonderful City of Stara Zagora

In the ages between the last post and this one, I have undergone a multitude of transformations and trials. Though the city is beautiful, the countryside surrounding it is picturesque, and the residents generally friendly, I have dealt with work problems, unacceptable accommodations, the bureaucracy of obtaining legal documentation, unforseen costs, and more. My tenuous grasp of the native language has been shaken by accent and dialect, but as I speak more, I understand more. It is always a bit of a struggle, anyway.

The good news is that this city is alive and the residents smart and amiable. Although my work is largely with children, I am trying to begin projects that branch to others in the community (albeit with spotty success). Yesterday, I attended a local Red Cross food donation drive. I had intended to bring youth to help, but none showed up. I am teaching three english classes every friday. Although I wanted to divide the students by ability, scheduling conflicts have made that impossible. Each of the classes has students of mixed ability, so the curriculum is difficult to organize. Students are happy to help each other, which helps me out a great deal.

I have another interesting story to share. I went hiking in the nearby Sredna Gora mountains and I was several miles away, by myself in the hills. I kept passing horse-drawn carts full of wood, and guilty looking Roma eying me warily. I felt odd, but kept walking. I figured out that it is probably illegal to chop the trees, and these people wanted to remain anonymous. When I came into view of people loading a cart, they pancked immediately and abandoned their horse and cart. Their horse bagan to walk away, it went over the hillside, the cart started to teeter on the brink, and looked like it would pull the horse down. I went and brought it back from danger, trying to explain aloud that I wansn't Bulgarian and I was afraid for the horse. When I looked back, there were men with axes who spoke in tense voices I couldn't understand. They were obvoiusly threatening and angry, one holding his axe on his shoulder and ready to swing it. They said something about police, and I said I was on an excursion in the hills, not a policeman. I realized that I was wearing my green sweater, which looks like police or army issue. I asked them to relax, mentally preparing to run down the hill. I asked them to relax, told them again that I am a foreigner and don't know why they're mad. One came and reached for my shoulder, but I backed away, not wanting to be held. I showed them my water bottle, pointed to my tennis shoes, and said I didn't want a problem, I didn't care what they were doing. After a while, they seemed to relax, and asked me if I am Greek or Turk. I told them I'm not from anywhere nearby, but am in Bulgaria for a short time. They said I must be British, and some of them warmed to me more. I told them I have a meeting with friends and had to go soon. I made my way from them, knowing I'd dodged a bullet. So no more hiking in the hills behind my apartment, especially alone.

As I settle into life in this city, I'm sure the other problems I have, which are too complex and numerous to share for the time-being, will relax. While I keep learning and living in this land, there will always be some, I know. Ciao for now!